Ex-Felons Voting Rights Restored in Florida

Redistricting in Ohio


In May 2018, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment to change the way congressional districts are drawn in the state. Ohio voters had faced previous ballot measures to create a redistricting commission but without success. The 2018 victory would not have been possible without the work of 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), and 501(c)(5) organizations working together.

Every 10 years, the U.S. Constitution mandates a census, a population count of everyone residing within the country. The states then use this data from the census to redraw congressional and state legislative election district boundaries so that the districts contain equal numbers of people. This process of redistricting is done to ensure that each person’s vote is counted equally. State lawmakers in 37 states control how to redraw the election districts, and new technology makes it increasingly easy for lawmakers to draw themselves into safe election districts based upon past voting results. This process, often called gerrymandering, results in decreased competition, reduced turnout, and a weaker democracy. A number of states have turned over the redistricting process to an independent or bi-partisan commission who completes the work, often without reliance upon voting results or incumbents’ addresses.

The Fair Districts=Fair Elections coalition in Ohio, composed of (c)(3)s, (c)(4)s, and (c)(5)s, has been working across the state since 2015 to reform electoral districts—passing a ballot measure in 2015 to change the way state legislative districts are drawn and another in May 2018 to change how congressional districts are drawn.


In 2015, the Fair Districts=Fair Elections Ohio coalition supported a ballot measure addressing the gerrymandering of state legislative districts. The measure created a bipartisan redistricting commission to replace a heavily partisan process. The passage of the measure was the culmination of years of work of (c)(3)s, (c)(4)s, and unions to educate voters about how gerrymandered districts impact the state. Through gerrymandering, some voters are disenfranchised, and the number of competitive races decreases, which in turn can make it nearly impossible to remove ineffective elected officials. Voters had defeated three previous measures to create a less partisan method of drawing legislative districts, so coalition partners had focused on a state-wide effort to educate voters to secure passage of the 2015 initiative.

Because the 2015 vote only applied to the drawing of state district lines, the coalition stayed together to extend that initial victory to the redistricting process for congressional districts. This effort culminated with Issue 1 on the May 2018 ballot, a bi-partisan effort garnering 74.85% of support from voters.

Coalition members included a mix of (c)(3)s, (c)(4)s and unions. A diverse range of organizations was part of the effort to secure a bipartisan redistricting process, including Common Cause, Ohio Voice, the League of Women Voters, America Votes, Columbus Chapter Alumnae of Delta Sigma Theta, a number of unions, religious associations including Nuns on the Bus Ohio, the Ohio Farmers Union, Ohio Student Association, and the Ohio Unity Coalition.


Coalition members worked within their tax-exempt status to maximize their advocacy reach. They formed two separate ballot measure committees, one for the 2015 state legislative ballot measure and a second for the 2018 congressional district ballot measure.

In each campaign, (c)(3) coalition partners played an important role in educating voters about the impact of gerrymandered districts and educating voters about the unfairness of gerrymandered districts. (C)(3) coalition members engaged in a state-wide effort to reach voters in town hall gatherings, through social media, and through public reports illustrating how gerrymandered districts can limit an individual’s electoral power. Coalition partners with extensive advocacy expertise also contacted smaller, less well-resourced (c)(3)s, explaining that (c)(3)s are allowed to support ballot measure proposals.

During both campaigns, (c)(3) coalition partners maintained a website providing information about the issue of gerrymandered districts and the proposed solutions. (C)(3) partners also provided sample op eds, letters to the editor, and pre-designed social media content that coalition partners from across the state could use in their communities.

However, educating the public about the importance of the issue was not enough. The (c)(4)s and unions—with their unlimited lobbying capacity—developed a campaign to talk with voters about the ballot measures. In the 2015 and 2018 primary elections, an intensive lobbying effort was needed to secure passage. 501(c)(4) and (c)(5) coalition partners, utilizing their ability to engage in unlimited lobbying, stepped up their efforts and engagement within the coalition; these organizations helped persuade voters to get out and vote for the measures.

The coalition organized a broad, statewide effort to gather signatures for the 2018 congressional boundary measure, gathering 200,000 signatures from citizens. This successful show of voter support even pushed the legislature to take its own action to create a ballot initiative. At this point, there were two ballot measures (a voter-initiated ballot measure and a legislatively-created ballot measure).

The Fair Districts coalition decided on a dual strategy of supporting the legislatively-referred initiative, while they also continued to gather signatures to place their more-specific proposal on the ballot in case the Issue 1 measure failed.

The 2018 ballot initiatives were unique in that there was no formal opposition.


The 2018 legislatively-referred measure passed with resounding support from voters. Support topped the 2015 measure, earning 75% support from voters. Although successful, the work of the coalition is not yet done, as lines will not be drawn until after the 2020 census. The coalition knows that advocacy organizations will need to be involved in the census to ensure there is an accurate count as well as the actual legislative district map drawing. The coalition believes the role of (c) (3)s will continue to be important in both educating the public about the census as well as the upcoming legislative line drawing process. The effort to ensure new legislative districts are created without partisan bias will involve a new lobbying effort as the legislature will need to vote to approve the new legislative maps with the lines drawn by the bipartisan commission. This process offers an important opportunity for (c)(4) and (c)(5) coalition partners to get involved.